The European Union is to spend £7.8m on a three-year project to enhance users' privacy in social networks, virtual communities and other Web 2.0 technologies.
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PrimeLife's short-term goal is to provide scalable and configurable privacy and identity management in new and emerging internet services and applications. In the longer term, it aims to develop tools that will protect individuals' privacy throughout their life.
Jan Camenisch, PrimeLife's technical leader, said everyone who used the internet left "virtual footprints" that others could collect and use without their knowledge. This was made possible by advances in technologies for data collection, unlimited storage, and reuse and lifelong linkage of these digital traces, he said.
This could lead to such data being used without the person's permission, he said. Camenisch referred to incidents of employers and universities looking up applicants' online community profiles before interviewing them for jobs or disciplinary reasons. In some countries, social networks had used details of customers' online shopping habits or personal preferences without their permission, he said.
"We aim to develop a toolbox, which you could describe as an integrated electronic data manager," said Camenisch. This would give users an overview of which personal data they used when, where, and how. It would let them define default privacy settings and preferences for all kinds of applications, and it would prompt the user if applications asked for data for any other purpose.
PrimeLife would "substantially advance" human-computer interfaces, configurable policy languages, web service federations, infrastructures and privacy-enhancing cryptography, said Camenisch.
Other PrimeLife partners include the World Wide Web Consortium's PLING, Liberty Alliance, ISO/IEC JTC 1, and ITU. PrimeLife will also work with open-source communities such as Higgins. Industry partners include Microsoft, Giesecke & Devrient and SAP.